I came across two articles lately at the excellent Out of Ur blog.
The first looks at the ways churches get around the logistical problems of teaching larger and larger congregations. One of the popular ways is to set up congregations at different sites and stream the sermon/service/lecture/whatever in by video.
This is being trialled by a small church in Beeac, which is about twenty minutes away from where I live. They can no longer afford a pastor, so they have partnered with a big church in Melbourne and they receive the feed from there. From what I understand it’s a good way around a big problem.
Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes, though, it may be indicative (and the cause) of other problems:
Many advocates of video venues say there simply aren’t enough church planters and talented teachers to go around. And my response is that in a video venue world, there never will be. Pursued as a large scale strategy, video venues will inevitably lead to fewer and fewer gifted and experienced lay and vocational preachers. The gift of preaching— already suffering from over-professionalization—will become ever more the work of the celebrity.
The answer? We need to be more intentional about finding people who can take on teaching and leadership roles:
Ultimately, I believe what’s best is not to come up with new and creative ways to put space between the people teaching and those being taught. What’s best is to shrink that space as much as is humanly possible. If the problem is a lack of qualified teachers, do whatever you can to find, call, equip, and send teachers. Don’t install a screen and beam teaching from 200 miles away. If you must install that video venue, call it what it is—a necessary and temporary compromise until your prayers for more workers are answered.
The other article looks at the alarming rate of burnout amongst clergy in America and wonders if part of the blame can be put on the pressure modern pastors have to grow their churches.
I’ve just read an article by two Christian counselors about the soul-killing impact of church ministry on leaders. (The statistic above comes from them.) They note that the pressure to grow the church is a significant factor leading to pastoral burn out. And some pastors “admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values because of a desperate need to validate their pastoral leadership.” It seems too many of us have our identities wrapped up in the measurable outcomes of our work rather than in the life-giving love of the Christ we proclaim. Something’s wrong.
The article goes on to question the ways we measure the success of the clergy, and makes the refreshing observation that we ‘are more than the measurable outcomes of [our] work.’ This is just as an important question in Australia. I know many people who feel the same way. Our mission is important, but we’re supposed to bring good news to the captives—not put arbitrarily heavy loads on our leaders and tut-tut when they fail to carry them.